Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A WordNet-Based Near-Synonyms and Similar-Looking Word Learning System

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A WordNet-Based Near-Synonyms and Similar-Looking Word Learning System

Article excerpt

Introduction

Vocabulary knowledge is essential for reading texts in a foreign language (Chen & Hsu, 2008). Language teachers generally train students to make use of two important skills to understand the meaning of unknown words: (a) the skill of guessing (i.e., the ability to use contextual and structural clues to obtain the correct meaning of the words); (b) the ability to efficiently use the dictionary (i.e., to quickly refer to the page that contains the target word and to read the interpretation of the word).

Many vocabulary learning systems, such as the electronic dictionary and corpus-based software, have been developed for learning English vocabulary. With the electronic dictionary, learners can quickly look up an English word. The electronic dictionary not only reduces the learner's querying time but also provides the same information as non-electronic dictionaries (Nagata, 1999). Beyond the electronic dictionary, corpora can be consulted as they provide more linguistic information than the electronic dictionary, such as how frequently words occur, which words tend to co-occur, and how the language is structured. The research of Cobb (1997) and Lee and Liou (2003) showed that a corpus-based approach can be used to scaffold the learning of students with low vocabulary skills and improve the results of vocabulary acquisition.

However, a word is described as a set of features. It is necessary to acquire the various features of a word in order to master that word completely. This includes features of its spoken and written forms, meanings, grammatical behavior, associations, collocations, frequency, and register (Richards, 1976). Many learners use the electronic dictionary only for obtaining one word with the simple translated gloss of the native language (see Figure 1). The inquirer only acquires the superficial meaning and is very apt to forget it (Martin, 1984). Heavy reliance on electronic dictionaries will negatively influence English reading fluency (Yeung, Jin, & Sweller, 1998). Another digital source, a corpus, can be consulted with concordance software. Most corpus-based systems focus on lexical choice, sorting the results based on their frequency and diction within the database queried. Only a few studies have attempted to use lexical structures, such as those pertaining to semantic relations for learning. Shimodaira et al. (2006) pointed out that some students queried words, whose meaning they already knew, to find the lexical relations of those words with other words. Nevertheless, these systems neglect the fact that a learner's native language is one of the most important factors that may negatively influence the learning of foreign language vocabulary.

English has an alphabetic writing system that emphasizes the knowledge of sound-to-spelling correspondence. The Chinese characters have evolved from their earliest form of hieroglyphs that emphasize word-specific knowledge in pronunciation and spelling (Baron & Strawson, 1976). The meaning of a Chinese character may directly be inferred by part of the word. The results of neurolinguistic research revealed that Chinese native speakers perceive reading Chinese characters in both hemispheres of the brain. However, English native speakers perceive reading English words only in the left hemisphere of the brain. This research proves that there is a difference in the cognition of English words versus Chinese characters, and that this has an influence on learning (Cheng & Yang, 1989; Tzeng, Hung, Cotton, & Wang, 1979). On the other hand, because of the environmental limitations of their L1, Chinese students are relatively weak in sound-to-spelling competency in English. Therefore, for the Chinese EFL student, competency in sight-word recognition is more important. These students prefer organizing similar-looking words into groups to aid recall. Learning groups of similar looking words together can form handy chunks in memory to aid recall (Ellis, 1996). …

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